Breathe Easy, Part II.
Right after I wrote Part I of this series, I had to see my doctor about a couple of little problems. He was late getting around to me because a child had come in to his office in a state of hyperventilation. His first concern, he said, had been to rule out any health problem. Once it was established that she was over-breathing, he said that it was very important to work with her and the mother. He said that doctors are realizing just how important it is to diagnose breathing problems in young children. He said that if a child experiences an unexplained bout of hyperventilation, the child is likely to become unduly concerned about his or her health. That can set up a lifelong pattern in which the child considers himself to be sickly. This can severely limit their life. I thought it was interesting to see how seriously he took the matter, since this subject has obviously been on my mind, as well.
As I promised, here are some suggestions and exercises for maintaining a normal breathing pace.
1) Lie, sit, or stand in a relaxed position. Place one hand on your upper abdomen, between your lower ribs and your navel. Place one hand on your chest, just below the collarbone and reaching down to your breastbone. Breathe naturally and comfortably for a few breaths. Also, take a deep breath. A big breath should feel natural, not forced. While you do this, notice these things: Which hand moved first? Which hand moved most? Did you breathe through your mouth or your nose? If you are breathing correctly, the hand on your stomach will rise first. You will have very little chest movement. You will breathe through your nose, not your mouth. If you find that your upper chest moves first, you have little stomach movement or you even find yourself drawing your stomach in, and you breathe through your mouth, you are probably breathing too shallowly and rapidly. You may need to practice better breathing habits.
2) If you habitually breathe with your upper chest, you may find that breathing correctly feels strange at first. You may even have a desire to take a big gulp after a few minutes of breathing correctly. That's ok. Your body is having to readjust to normal levels of carbon dioxide. Once your body retrains itself, you will find that your feel much better overall. Do note: If you do encounter unusual problems, you may want to check with a doctor as there are a few medical conditions where you cannot achieve normal breathing patterns. In such cases, it's not wise to force it.
3) Some habitual hyperventilators fall right into normal breathing patterns the moment that they realize they have been breathing incorrectly. Others may take at least a year to break poor habits and re-build better ones. Be patient.
4) There are some great books and web articles that describe breathing exercises to help your body return to normal patterns. I, personally, avoid ones that are taken directly from eastern disciplines, such as Yoga and T'ai Chi for two reasons: a) I am uncomfortable with the religious and philosophical underpinnings of eastern exercises and b) I don't think they are as effective as exercises designed by respiratory therapists and other specialists who work with people with poor breathing habits.
5) Attend to problems with allergies, asthma, or anything that affects the respiratory system.
6) Do you gulp air when you talk and/or do you gulp air when you eat and drink? Both of these habits can lead to some uncomfortable physical problems. In both cases, slowing down may help you breathe more naturally.
7) If you find that you are feeling breathless for no apparent reason, stop for a moment. Check your breathing. Relax, especially in your shoulders and upper chest. See if a few moments of natural breathing will restore your breath again.
8) Sometimes, lying down with your arms resting above your head can help you get the hang of what it means to breathe correctly. This position naturally encourages the upper chest to stay still and the diaphragm to move easily.
9) The focus on breathing exercises is to help you breathe naturally, easily, and without undue effort or tension. Breathing expert, Dinah Bradley, counsels: "Lips together, jaw relaxed, breathing low and slow." Her emphasis is on keeping your upper body relaxed, so that your body can breathe as it was intended to. If you find that you are becoming frustrated with yourself, tense, dizzy, or bothered in any way, stop for the moment. Try again later, when you are more relaxed.
10)People breathe at individual rates, so it's difficult to say just how many breaths per minute you should take when at rest. I've seen various figures quoted. Dinah Bradley suggests aiming for about 12 breaths per minute, but I would not take that as a hard and fast rule. Time your breaths for a minute and see where you fall. If you have any questions, as your doctor about what is best for you.